In the hours following the terrible accident on the Humboldt Broncos bus on the evening of April 6, 2018, and when the tragedy was revealed, there was this photograph – three young people in hospital beds holding hands.
Teammates Derek Patter, Nick Schumlansky and Gracen Cameron held on to each other.
At that moment, they could never know what was before them. But this scene, in those painful early days, was powerful.
Putter, a 20-year-old striker, suffered from bleeding outside his brain, as well as fractures of his right lower leg and fibula, a fracture of the nasal bone, and significant cuts and bruises.
Schumlanski, a 21-year-old striker, received a bone fracture behind his ear and a lumbar abruption fracture, but he got away from the blow.
Both were able to resume the game of hockey next season.
Cameron was sandwiched between Putter and Schumlansky in a neck brace. His back was broken, a concussion and eye injuries – he could not even play hockey again.
“I was obviously told that I can’t play after a back fracture. I accepted the fact that I won’t play anymore. ” Cameron told CBC Sports this week.
But the 20 year old is from Olds, Alta. will play again. And now he is on a path that he thought has disappeared.
Cameron is trying to find words to describe his recovery. His rehabilitation was just wonderful. Seven months after a back fracture in April 2018, he underwent an operation to “remove some equipment” still remaining in his body – screws along the spine and a steel rod.
“It was then that the doctor said I could pull them out and I would have the opportunity to play again,” Cameron said.
This glimmer of hope awakened in Cameron a strong desire to continue to move forward and, perhaps, one day to go out on the ice.
There were dark days to be sure. But it was precisely in these quiet, searching moments that it became clear to him how he wanted to live.
I would say that last year, much has changed in the way I look at life. The prospect is great.– Greisen Cameron on his recovery
“I think that is when you will learn the most about yourself. A lot of things that I never thought I’d deal with before. It was a big call for me, ”Cameron said. “I would say that last year a lot has changed in the way I look at life. The prospect is great.
“You can always find ways to look at things negatively, and you can always find ways to look at things positively.”
Just two months after this last operation to remove all the steel from his body in November 2018, Cameron walked. Careful, slow, heavy steps. But soon after that, he began to train again.
The return to hockey, which seemed impossible, now began to focus.
“I didn’t want to worry too much if that didn’t work, but inside I was thrilled,” Cameron said.
Cameron began to walk with ease, train easily and return to the game.
His first stop on the way back was with his former juvenile AAA team, optimistic deer leaders. There he spent the season as an assistant coach, putting on skates from time to time and training with the team.
“It was terrible. I was so out of shape, ”said Cameron. “As soon as I got the approval from the doctor at full capacity, the first two or three ice periods were not so fun.”
WATCH | Cameron on the road to recovery:
But the urge to be back on the ice when he put up with the fact that he could never lace up his skates for the rest of his life was exciting. And soon after that he received a sign that it was time to return to Humboldt.
One of the Broncos scouts who attended the Red Deer game came up with the idea of Cameron returning to the team next season. It has been a “game” from that moment for Cameron.
“I think the best thing for me was to be patient, not to rush. This ultimately gave me more confidence and lowered my expectations. I was fine with where I was, ”said Cameron.
Last summer, Cameron was preparing to return to Humboldt to earn his place in the team.
A year and a half after this incomprehensible tragedy, back fracture, concussion and eye injury, he made his triumphant return – he was called captain Humboldt Broncos in his final season.
“I was where I wanted to be. It all came together. It was then that it struck me that I had achieved something here, ”said Cameron. “It was a really special moment.”
In 46 games, the six-foot winger brought five goals and eight assists. There were some injuries during the season, and Cameron admits that he was ready to consider what he went through.
“This is hockey. I was just happy to be back, ”he said.
Cameron says a lot about the fact that the hockey team is a family that he knew before the crash, but perhaps took it for granted.
“It was the hardest part for me not to be in the team 24/7. This is what all the guys miss when the seasons are over. I wanted to create a close team right away. That was what we did, ”he said.
If there was one defining moment that Cameron reflects on during his last season with the Broncos, then this was the team meeting after playing Nipawin, which the team lost a lot. Returning home along the same track as the accident, he thought a lot about what he wanted to say to his teammates.
“Then I talked a little with the guys, and I think they really respected that,” he said. “I just told them a lot about what it means to be a teammate and what a family is. What it means to be part of a winning team and a positive group. And do not take things for granted, enjoy it and enjoy each other, because it does not last forever. “
With the end of the season, Cameron began to think about how his future in sport and life might look. He was hired by a number of Canadian and American universities, but, as in the case of his return to hockey, he did not put pressure on himself to rush to make a decision.
He also wanted to make sure that the educational path he was looking for was appropriate.
“I feel that over the past two years I have learned a lot, if I can put it into words, ponder my thoughts and get a degree in psychology, maybe I can make life easier for some other people who also learn through their own things,” said Cameron
He wants to become a sports psychologist, so moved and inspired that his therapist was able to help him, now he wants to pay in advance.
“It sounds cliche and stupid, but it’s a big part of it. Mental health is a big part of this. The conversation with the therapist is overlooked, ”he said.
In the midst of his contemplation, a trainer from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin began to gain momentum when recruiting Cameron.
Seamus Gregory of Harbor Grace, Nfld., Was hired as the program’s head coach in 2014. He saw Cameron play before the accident, and put him on the radar of his team as a player whom he would like to have in the future.
I told my wife that I would be back in a week. Jumped into the truck. I arrived at Weyburn. I wrote to Graysen and said that I was still interested.– Seamus Gregory, Northland College head coach, while traveling to work.
“He has a difficult puck. A good two-way player, ”Gregory told CBC Sports. “His level of competition is off the charts.”
Northland College is a small school with only about 600 students. Hockey LumberJacks is an NCAA Division III program. Gregory knew that a friendly family atmosphere would appeal to Cameron. He sowed the seeds that Cameron joined their team in January during a recruitment trip.
“During the season I gave him my card. I continued to talk to him and write messages to him, ”Gregory said. “He is a terrific leader.”
The two kept in touch, but Gregory did not want to put too much pressure on Cameron when the playoffs began in the Broncos. His team was eliminated after a difficult season.
Then, one morning in February, Gregory woke up and felt the need to get in his truck and drive 17 hours from Ashland to Humboldt to meet with Cameron.
“I told my wife that I would be back in a week. Jumped into the truck. I arrived at Weyburn. I watched a couple of games and then got a hotel in Humboldt, ”Gregory said. “I wrote to Greisen and said that I was still interested. Said lunch would be great. ”
On a cold winter winter day in February, the obstacles of Gregory, Cameron, and Broncos head coach Scott Barney met at Boston Pizza in Humboldt.
“We just had a direct connection,” Gregory said.
Feeling shared by Cameron.
“Seamus tried to do everything possible to make me feel comfortable,” he said. “I think that we think alike about many things. Especially about how friendly and family his team was last season. ”
Last Saturday, April 25, Cameron called Gregory. He told his future coach that he was participating in the program.
“It has always been Northland from the very beginning in my head. He’s best suited for me right now, ”Cameron said. “It will be a different experience. I have not been a student for three years. It will be a shock, but I am ready for it. I am just happy to get a good change. ”
Gregory, who doubted whether Cameron would join his team, was glad to receive this phone call.
“It was a beautiful day. I was on the street with my three daughters. He spoke to me about his life and where he wants to go and what he wants to study, and what he wanted to play for me, ”Gregory said.
“I got goosebumps.”
Gregory says that more than anything, Cameron will immediately have an impact on the locker room, leading his young team.
“He will demand respect when he goes through the locker room. We need him. We need him in our locker room, ”Gregory said.
“Greisen brings hope and inspiration to our small community.”
This signals a new beginning for Cameron, a new beginning, which, according to him, is so necessary for him. The last two years have affected a young man from Alberta, whose weight is sometimes too large.
“Not having so much pressure. I knew that it was part of it, but it would be nice to have a change, ”he said. “My last year was a bit stressful at times.”
He does not want this to be misinterpreted, that he somehow turned his back on the Broncos and all that he experienced in the Saskatchewan community. This team, this experience, his “brothers” will always be with him.
“I always play for these guys. I came back for me, but I play for them, ”he said.
Cameron’s No. 9 is now fired by Humboldt Broncos, along with his former teammates on the rafters of Elgar Peterson.
“It is an honor. I never thought that I would choose my shirt anywhere. It’s nice to know that these posters are always next to my brothers, ”said Cameron.